We are now 20 races into the NASCAR Cup Series season, and the points standings continue to evolve on a weekly basis. For the first time since 2011, there have been 14 unique race winners in the first 20 races. Christopher Bell became the latest to lock up his spot in the NASCAR Playoffs by winning this past weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
As a result of Bell’s win, only two spots in the playoffs remain with six races to go in the regular season. With two road courses and Daytona still on the schedule, many are starting to believe we could see 16 winners if not more for the first time under the current playoff format.
The following article contains a table with the updated NASCAR Cup Series standings through the first half of the regular season. Discussion of several noteworthy developments after the first 20 races is also included.
NASCAR Cup Series Standings Update | After Race 20 at New Hampshire
Refer to the table below for the updated NASCAR Cup Series points standings through the first 20 races of the season. The table also includes additional NASCAR Cup Series stats including Wins, Top-5 Finishes, Top-10 Finishes and Stage Wins. The table is sortable by driver and statistic for your viewing convenience.
|Car Number||Driver||Projected Playoff Seed||Standings Points||Wins||Top-5's||Top-10's||Stage Wins|
|19||Martin Truex Jr.||N/A||754||0||3||11||7|
|47||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||N/A||432||0||1||5||0|
Christopher Bell Erases Name from NASCAR Playoffs Bubble
One could reasonably argue that Christopher Bell has been the most consistent of the four Joe Gibbs Racing drivers all season long. Unfortunately for him and the No. 20 team, the rush of different race winners and lack of playoff points had them sitting firmly on the bubble in the NASCAR standings entering last week’s action at New Hampshire.
Many NASCAR analysts overlooked Bell when previewing the Ambetter 301. The fact that he finished runner-up the previous year and also scored wins in each of his Xfinity Series starts at New Hampshire gave him extremely impressive stats at the track. Bell ran down and passed NASCAR Cup Series standings leader Chase Elliott with roughly 45 laps to go and quickly pulled away. He crossed the line nearly six seconds ahead of Elliott and over 13 seconds before any other driver to score his second career Cup Series win.
Bell’s win at New Hampshire locked him firmly into the 2022 NASCAR Playoffs. After all, he is currently eighth in the points standings. A lack of stage wins and playoff points is still noticeable, but the outright win erased all doubt. Bell would be the 10-seed if the playoffs started today. With so many one-win drivers behind him on points, Bell is ensured of the chance to race for a championship this fall regardless of how many other drivers go on to win a race.
Red-Hot Chase Elliott Expands Lead Atop NASCAR Standings
It was only a few races ago that Chase Elliott found himself with a bevy of pursuers for the top spot in the NASCAR Cup Series standings. Both Kyle Busch and Ross Chastain were within 20 points of Elliott following the race at World Wide Technology Raceway on June 5th. In the month and a half since then, the No. 9 team has turned up the heat in a big way.
Following an eighth-place run at Sonoma, Elliott emerged from NASCAR’s only off week of the season to win at Nashville. He was runner-up at Road America, won again at Atlanta and then came home second to Bell this past weekend.
The incredible four-week stretch has seen Elliott expand his lead in the NASCAR points standings once again. After New Hampshire, Elliott holds a 67-point lead over Chastain for the regular season championship. Ryan Blaney is the only other driver within 100 points of the No. 9 after 20 races.
Perhaps even more importantly, adding two more race wins has enabled Elliott to bank more playoff points. It wasn’t long ago that Chastain was fighting him tough for the 1-seed. Now, only Chastain and Joey Logano are even within 20 points of Elliott in the current NASCAR Playoffs standings.
Win or Go Home?
While Christopher Bell’s victory at New Hampshire enabled him to breathe easily with regard to the playoffs, it also drastically altered the state of the playoff bubble. As of now, the only two drivers currently in the NASCAR Playoffs on points are Ryan Blaney and Martin Truex Jr. The problem for all other drivers who find themselves below the cutline is that Blaney and Truex sit third and fourth in the points standings, respectively.
The result of having the fourth-place driver on points now situated as the last man on the right side of the cutline is a massive gap back to those on the wrong side. With only six regular season races remaining, this means that there is virtually no chance of any driver making up enough points to surpass Truex or Blaney for a playoff spot. Even Kevin Harvick, a top-10 points driver on the season, currently sits 68 points back of Truex.
If NASCAR was hoping that the current method of tracking standings and awarding playoff berths would put a greater emphasis on winning, they certainly have gotten their wish this season. Based on the insurmountable gap in points, any driver currently below the cutline only has one option to qualify for the NASCAR Playoffs: win a race.
With so many other drivers now in a true “win or go home” situation, getting 16 different winners is looking more and more like a realistic possibility. While Harvick could still mathematically point his way in, drivers like Aric Almirola, Erik Jones, Michael McDowell and Bubba Wallace are in must-win mode if they hope to make the playoffs. Furthermore, the pressure on Blaney and Truex to remove themselves from the bubble with a race win to get off the playoff bubble continues to grow.